It’s a big deal when someone makes a gift to your nonprofit. Even a small donation shows that someone cared enough to take the time to give you money.

I hope you never get so big that you forget how every dollar counts. And every donor matters.

When a donor makes a gift, it’s a good thing. It shows how much they care about your work.

When a donor makes repeated gifts, and supports you year after year, it should be celebrated. This is a high compliment to you and shows how much they trust you with their money. After all, they wouldn’t keep giving if they didn’t feel confident that you can handle the money well.

So, how do you keep them giving?

It’s all about the follow up.


The key to creating loyal donors is following up with them to let them know what you’ve done with their money. You can accomplish this through a letter, a newsletter, social media, and more. One really common way to report back to your donors is with an annual report.

The real trick to an annual report is to keep it concise and interesting.  There’s no need for you to blather on about how great and wonderful your nonprofit is. Just get to the juicy stuff and show them how many lives have been changed by the work your organization does.

Check out this short video for more ideas about creating a power-packed annual report.

It happens to everyone.


At some point, you’ll take your eye off the prize long enough to realize there are lots of other nonprofits out there, and they’re all asking for money, just like you.


It’s easy to worry. “What if more people give to them instead of us? Their cause is sexier than ours!”


Should you worry about competing with established nonprofits? 


The answer is simple – No.  There’s enough money out there for everyone.


If everyone who gives to charity simply gave 1% more, we’d all be swimming in resources!  Instead of worrying about competitors, focus on increasing your giving 1%.


You must ditch the small thinking.


Worrying about competition comes from a negative money mindset. It comes from a line of thinking that assumes there’s a winner and a loser. When someone else wins, you lose.


You’re likely comparing your nonprofit to others, and from the outside, lots of groups look really successful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they’re better than you or doing better work than you or more deserving of someone’s donation.


You have to stop.


Focus on the lives that are being changed because of the work your nonprofit does. Believe in what you’re doing and others will too.


 Not too long ago, there was a story in the news of a million dollar gift given to the local university.  Many smaller nonprofits told me they were feeling depressed about it.  They want to receive that level of gift, but weren’t sure they ever could.


I certainly understand, but here’s the truth about competition among nonprofits:  People give to organizations and causes they care about. 


Your job is to keep doing business as usual in your Development office and know that, if anything, this proves that there is plenty of money out there to be donated.  Don’t worry about what another organization is doing – stay focused on your dreams, your vision, your goals, and your plan.


The best thing you can do is to continue to build relationships with your donors.  Keep getting to know them.  Keep taking them to lunch.  Keep sending handwritten notes.  Keep learning about them and why they care about your organization. Keep giving them a good experience with your nonprofit.


And don’t be afraid of any other organization’s success.  In fact, be grateful.  When individuals feel the rush from making a large gift, it usually encourages them to want to do it again. Next time, it could be you receiving a large gift!

Some days, fundraising can be overwhelming.


There are so many gurus telling you what you should be doing. Learn Facebook ads. Write better grants. Don’t mess up your next appeal.


It’s hard to know where to start.


What you should be asking is what really works?


And what will work for your organization at this moment in time?


Let’s make this simple. Fundraising is about engaging people in the work your nonprofit is doing.  It’s not about selling candy bars or having a golf tournament.  It’s about giving people the chance to make a gift and feel good about it, knowing they are changing lives and making a difference in the world.  This is donor-based fundraising at its best, and it provides long-term sustainability to nonprofit organizations.


Here are 7 simple steps you can take to raise big money for your nonprofit.


1. Make fundraising a priority.  Don’t just say you want to raise money, commit to it. Carve out time every day to work on it. This isn’t something you can do when you have time.  You must be organized and prepared when it comes to fundraising so that you can maximize your efforts. You must have a plan and work it. You can’t be successful if you’re reacting to whatever falls in your lap from day to day.


2. Understand why people give.  People give for lots of different reasons – usually because they want to help, they are moved by your mission, or they want to give back.  Mostly it’s because someone asked.  Giving is an emotional act, backed up by logic.  That’s why so many nonprofits understand how to play up the emotional side of their work, to pluck a prospect’s heart strings. When you understand the emotion behind the gifts that come to your organization, your messaging will likely be more effective.


3. Identify the best donor prospect. This may hurt your feelings, but not everyone will care about your mission.  And not everyone will give.  Even if you are very passionate about the work your nonprofit does, not everyone else will be.  So, it’s best to get focused on those people who are likely to care about what your nonprofit is about.  Start by getting clear on who is most likely to support your nonprofit.  What do your current donors or volunteers have in common? Look at both demographics and psychographics, and create a profile. Once you understand your ideal donor, it’s much easier to go find others just like them.


4. Tell your story. Telling your story is key to fundraising, but what is your story?  It’s who your nonprofit is and what you are doing to change the world.  It’s about the lives you are changing (or saving).  And it must be told in a way that’s easily understandable and meaningful to your ideal donor prospect.  That means you must use simple language, leave out the jargon, and keep it short. When you tell a compelling story, people will take action.  They’ll make a gift or sign up to volunteer, and isn’t that what you really want?


5. Plan how and when you will ask for a gift. This is the nitty-gritty part of fundraising! It’s best to be proactive, using well thought-out fundraising strategies, and not reacting to whatever comes along. Fundraising by default is never successful. Plan how, when, who, and what for every fundraising activity you undertake. And document it in a written plan to guide your activities so you know where you’re headed. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.


6. Acknowledge and steward the gift.  This may actually be the most important part of fundraising, yet the part that most nonprofits don’t get right.  And it’s quite simple: Thank your donor promptly, warmly, and sincerely every time.  In order to feel comfortable giving again, your donor must feel really good about giving to you. Watch how you’re communicating with the donor and make sure that everything you do builds trust. It’s the foundation of good relationships.


7. Evaluate success and Get Fully Funded.  Be sure to track where money is being spent, and where money is being raised so that you know what’s working for you. Then continue doing those things that work, and stop doing those that don’t.  This means that you may have to stop doing an annual event because it just isn’t worth the investment of time and money you’re putting into it. 

Once you get these basics in place, fundraising becomes easier, and your confidence will increase with each successful activity.


Want more help? The Get Fully Funded system is designed to help you put the key pieces of donor-based fundraising in place.

  • It’s easy to use
  • Contains dozens of checklists and worksheets to simplify things
  • Comes with lifetime support with a membership to the Get Fully Funded Club. In the Club, you’ll find a community of others just like you who are working to build annual fundraising, and you’ll get monthly webinars to keep you moving forward toward raising the money of your dreams.

It’s like getting everything you wish you had but didn’t know you wanted to help you raise more money than you thought possible. Read more and get yours at


Everything slows down in the summer, right? After all, they’re known as the “lazy days of summer.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time ANYTHING in my world slowed down. (I might have been 6 years old!)

When the warm days roll around, and co-workers start heading out on vacation, it’s tempting to slow down. You may be thinking that there’s no point in making phone calls – no one is home. You can’t do much, so you may as well coast.


The things you do now will create your fundraising results 6 months from now.

Don’t slack off unless you want to have a miserable holiday season. Consistency is key. The more regular you are in spreading the word and building relationships, the more trust you build with your donors and supporters. People love those that they can count on.

So, what should you be doing now?

Here are 10 fundraising activities that will set you up for big success this Fall:

1.  Evaluate your numbers so far this year.  What’s working? What’s not? The results will help you decide what to tweak for the second half of the year, and point you toward the things you should be spending time on. Look at where your donations are coming from, what strategies have been successful, and what additional resources you might need for Fall.  Time spent in evaluation can pay off big later.

2.  Create themes for your Fall appeal and newsletter. This little bit of prework can save you a ton of time later. It’s a lot easier to write a letter or a newsletter article if you have at least a general idea of what you want to say. Choose a theme that helps your donor feel something that moves them to want to give. Remember – it’s about them, not you.

3.  Get a jumpstart on planning your next event. Lay out a timeline for your next dinner or golf tournament, update your sponsorship levels, talk to media sponsors, and generally get moving. Events are best when they aren’t thrown together at the last minute.

4.  Spend time researching new grant opportunities. A couple of hours spent perusing the Foundation Center database or Guidestar can reveal new grant opportunities that you might be able to turn into new dollars for programs. Make sure the ones you pursue are a hand-in-glove fit with your programs and follow their guidelines to the letter.

5.  Expand your speaking schedule. Reach out to the civic clubs in town and see if you can get on their program schedule. Public speaking is one of the best ways to spread the word about your cause and get in front of ideal donor prospects. Check with your local library or Chamber of Commerce to see if they have a list of area clubs.

6.  Pitch a story to your local media. Getting on television or in the newspaper is still a great way to let lots of people know what your nonprofit is up to. It also helps build credibility for your organization, and can help you recruit new volunteers or supporters. The key is to pitch an interesting story that media folks will be interested in.

7.  Capture photos and stories of lives you’re changing. You should always be on the lookout for stories from the front lines that you can use to inspire your donors. Photos are even better. A few hours can reap big rewards and bring you lots of new material for your communications. Be sure to get releases for both and protect privacy where you can.

8.  Fellowship with program staff. Spend time with your coworkers to find out how things are going. You may get some insight into trends they’re seeing that you can share with donors. The time you spend builds relationships with coworkers, which will pay off BIG later.

9.  Take Board members to lunch. The better you know your Board members, the easier it is to engage them in meaningful activities. You’ll find out what they’re interested in and comfortable with, which will help you point them to tasks that are a good fit for them.  A happy Board member is a productive Board member, and who doesn’t need more of those?

10.  Organize your office. Spend a little time catching up on your filing and putting things away. You don’t have time to spend searching for things, so get organized while you have a chance.

Look carefully at every nonprofit you consider really successful.  I bet they each have a clear vision they are working to achieve. And I bet it’s something impressive. Maybe they’re working to eliminate illiteracy in their community, or find homes for every homeless animal. Whatever their vision it’s something that people can easily imagine in their minds, understand the impact, and get behind.

It’s called a BHAG.

A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) goes beyond a nonprofit’s reason for existence. Your mission statement may express why the organization was created, but a big vision excites people with its big impact.  I like to say ‘play big or go home!’ I mean, if a nonprofit exists, it should have as big an impact as possible. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if your organization it isn’t going to do something very worthwhile?

It doesn’t matter what kind of services you offer, a BHAG will set you apart from the mediocre nonprofits in town. Your nonprofit will be the one in your community that’s up to something special and attracts all the movers and shakers to serve on the Board and support fundraising campaigns.  Your BHAG will make you different in the donors’ minds.  Instead of being one of dozens of boring nonprofits, you’ll be the fresh, exciting one doing something that really matters.

A BHAG is a goal so bold that it stretches your nonprofit to work toward it and reach it. Your staff get excited about it and work together to make it happen. You may have to change the way you are doing some things to become more efficient or more effective. Your big vision should give you goosebumps when you talk about it with others. It may event scare you a little. And its impact will be profound and significant in the community, changing many lives.  

Here are some specific reasons you should create and commit to a BHAG:

  • A big vision attracts supporters.  A BHAG is very interesting to donors. No one wants to support something mediocre. And people don’t want to get involved with something that even remotely looks like a sinking ship! Instead, donors love a group that is passionately championing a cause and changing the status quo.  People like helping make something magical and wonderful happen, especially when it has long-lasting impact. When your BHAG sets peoples’ hearts on fire, they will give and likely give big gifts to help your big vision become a reality.
  • A big vision creates the foundation for strategic and operational plans. One of my favorite stories is from “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice meets the Cheshire Cat and asks him for help. “Where do you want to go?” the Cat asks.  “I don’t much care,” says Alice. “Then any road will get you there” responds the Cat.  It’s the same thing with planning.  Without a BHAG to shine a light on the destination you want to reach, it’s going to be tough to get there.  You could wander aimlessly as an organization, dabbling in programs, helping a few people along the way, but never really having much of an impact. Your BHAG will provide the destination so that you can create the roadmap to get there. It sets the stage for the plans that are needed to fulfill the vision.
  • A big vision shifts you from being reactive to being proactive. When you know very clearly where your nonprofit is heading and you create plans to get there, you know exactly what to do every day.  Gone are the days when you spend your time putting out fires. A clear vision gives you a yardstick to measure your activities by.  For example, if your BHAG is to eliminate hunger in your community, then you can look at each item on your “To Do” list and ask yourself “Does this get us closer to eliminating hunger?” If the answer is yes, you do the task.  If not, mark it off your list because you don’t need to spend your time on it.

Your BHAG should be compelling. When you talk about it in the community, people should start asking lots of questions to better understand it (this usually indicates their interest in supporting it!).  Your big vision should be easy to explain and easy to understand. You shouldn’t have to work hard to describe what you’re trying to do.

Most importantly, everyone in a leadership position in your organization, both staff and Board, should participate in creating the vision and supporting it. If you are missing consensus about your BHAG, go back and try again.  You don’t want any bad apples pulling everyone else down while you’re working to achieve something of this importance.

Ready to create your BHAG?  It’s not so hard to do. Gather up your nonprofit’s leaders and key people and think about the biggest thing you’d like to accomplish as an organization.  Start by brainstorming a few ideas. Talk them over and choose one to work toward. Decide that you’re willing to commit to it and make it happen, knowing that it could take time and effort and money to accomplish. And then do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Your BHAG will get you moving on the path to becoming one of the hottest nonprofits in town!

Want more help with a BHAG? Join me for a new training called “5 Simple Secrets of Fully-Funded Nonprofits” on July 15. You’ll learn what it takes to raise all the money you need to fund your BHAG. Get all the info and register at

By: Sandy Rees

I have a theory about nonprofit Boards. Most small nonprofits have people on their Boards who don’t understand what they’ve said “yes” to. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do as a Board member, and in the absence of knowledge, they do whatever looks fun or familiar.

Board Meeting
That leaves the door wide open for them to get too involved in the day-to-day operations and micromanage, or step too far back and do absolutely nothing, placing way too much trust in the staff to make everything work. Neither scenario is healthy for the organization and can lead to a number of problems, which impede the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

All the while, the staff is looking to Board members to help them move the nonprofit forward, expecting them to help raise money, lead strategic planning, and lots more things that Boards are supposed to do.

The problem is that the staff usually knows more about what a Board is supposed to do than the Board does. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Staff members typically attend way more trainings and workshops than Board members do.  They read newsletters and blogs. And they have a greater understanding of their role versus the Board’s role.

[tweetthis url=""]It’s easy to forget that most Boards simply haven’t had the chance to learn about their job. And they don’t know what they don’t know. [/tweetthis]

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. Educate them.

If your Board doesn’t know what their job is, you’ve got to teach them. You probably know more about what they need to do than anyone else, so it’s up to you to get the ball rolling.

People aren’t suddenly endowed with knowledge just because they say “yes” to being on a Board. Stop expecting them to know everything they need to know to do their job.  Most people want to do the right thing, but if they don’t know what that is, there’s the potential for problems, miscommunication, and more.

Don’t blame them, shame them, or guilt them. Just help them understand their role and set them up for success.

I remember playing the blame game with my Board when I was a Development Director. I’d attend workshops where the presenter would tell us that our Board should be helping with fundraising. Then I’d go back and expect Board members to rise to the occasion. What I didn’t understand was that they didn’t know how. Some of them were flat out scared to ask anyone for money, and most of them were resistant to the idea.

So, how do you get your Board on board?


  • Get them some training. One day a year spent in learning or refreshing themselves about their job can be a day very well spent. If you can’t carve out a whole day, spend 10 minutes at each Board meeting going over one of their basic roles.


  • Inspire them.  Share with them some heart-warming stories about the lives that are being changed by the work your nonprofit is doing. Don’t assume they already know.  If they only show up to a monthly Board meeting, they’re likely to forget a lot in between those meetings. Help them remember.


  • Treat your Board as individuals. Think of them and work with them one at a time. When you think of them as a group, it’s easy to generalize, which doesn’t help anything. Remember: One size does NOT fit all! This is why you won’t get 100% response when you ask your Board to sell tickets to your event. Not everyone feels comfortable doing it and when people lack confidence in their ability to do a task, they won’t do it.


  • Work in baby steps. Give them small tasks to complete instead of big projects. Even though they are the leaders of your nonprofit, they are volunteers and may not have large amounts of time to give you. Ask them to complete small tasks and you’ll be much more likely to get the result you want.

It’s easy to get impatient or resentful toward your Board. You look to them for leadership and guidance, and chances are good they will disappoint you from time to time. Just remember that you can accept the current situation and be frustrated with your Board, or you can take steps to change it.


By: Sandy Rees

One of the hardest things we have to do sometimes is to admit we’re stuck. (Hey, it happens to ALL of us from time to time.)

Being stuck means you can’t see possibilities anymore. You’re confused. You’re frustrated. And you need someone to help you get out of it.

Education child Mathematics Class
It’s kind of like being in quicksand – struggle and you’ll go deeper. You need someone to throw you a lifeline and pull you out.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to be stuck. It’s a slippery slope and it happens so gradually that you don’t notice it until you feel the confusion and frustration.

Here are three things you’ll either say or think that indicate your fundraising is stuck:

1. “We tried that.” These are probably the three most deadly words in all of fundraising. There’s a tiredness in these words, and often people have already given up when they say them.  I know that what really happened is they did something without thinking it all the way through and without putting full effort into it, and got lackluster results. AND, they aren’t willing to own their part in the disappointment.

2. “I don’t have time.” Time is our most precious resource. Spend it wisely and you’ll get amazing results. Spend it reacting to what other people want, and you’ll never get around to doing the things you really should be doing. We all get 24 hours every day to do what we need to do. Getting things done is a matter of priorities and focus. “I don’t have time” is what people say when they don’t want to do something.

3. “I don’t know any rich people.”  There’s a common dream that one of your donors will win the lottery and give you so much money that you won’t need to fundraise any more. It’s unrealistic. And ridiculous. You already know rich people – they’re rich in money and relationships and love and lots of other things that matter. Unless you get out from behind your computer and go spend some time with them, you’ll never develop the relationship you need in order for them to want to support your nonprofit. Ms. Betty Bigbucks is not going to magically show up in your office one day with a big, fat check for you.

If you’ve believed any of these three at some point, it’s okay. Like I said, we’ve all been stuck.

But like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.”

So, here’s what you need to know: These are really just excuses that you’ve used to let yourself off the hook. You are a smart, committed person, and you are capable of so much more.  You don’t need excuses. What you need is some inspiration.

Spend some time getting reconnected to the mission of your nonprofit and why it matters to you. Then put a plan together for the next 60 days, and go work the plan.
[tweetthis url=""]You can have excuses or you can have results. What’s it going to be?[/tweetthis]

By: Sandy Rees

Raising money requires awareness. If people don’t know you’re there, they can’t support you.

[tweetthis url=""]No one wakes up in the morning and randomly picks a nonprofit to give to. People give to charities they’ve heard of and trust.[/tweetthis] An image of a man making a public speech.
The way to generate buzz is to get in front of people who are likely to want to support your work. In other words, you have to spread the word about the work you’re doing. You have to be proactive about it. Don’t wait for people to find you. You have to go out and find them.
One tried and true method for spreading the word about the work your organization does (and building support for your mission at the same time) is public speaking. It’s a great way to let people know what your nonprofit does, and fights the “best-kept-secret-in-town” syndrome.

Here are three steps to ensuring you get the biggest results from your speaking gigs:

1. Create a powerful 20-30 minute presentation. No one wants to hear a boring speaker. And there’s no doubt in my mind that you have amazing things to share. So, here’s a way to put together a fantastic presentation that will have audiences genuinely interested and eager to find out how they can help:

  • Start with a whiplash statistic to get their attention. Something like this: “1 in every 8 people in our community will go hungry today” or “Every day in our town, over 15 perfectly loving cats and dogs are euthanized.” This stat helps set up the problem that your nonprofit is here to fight.
  • Next, share a story about someone who’s life has been changed (or saved) by the work your nonprofit does. Tell it using a “before and after” format – tell what life was like before your nonprofit helped, and what life is like now.
  • Finally, share a Call to Action with your audience. Tell them how they have the power to join your nonprofit in changing more lives by giving, volunteering, or something else. Ask them to sign up to learn more about the work your nonprofit is doing by giving you their email address (so you can communicate more with them later).

2. Find places where you can share your powerful presentation. Start with local civic groups (Rotary, Kiwanis, Civitan, Lions, etc.). Your local library or chamber of commerce probably has a list of clubs that meet in your area. Email the club President or Program person and ask to speak to the group. Most of these groups have weekly programs and they’re always looking for speakers. Also reach out to local church groups (Womens groups, Mens groups, Sunday School classes, etc.) for the opportunity to speak.

Announce on social media and in your newsletter that you’re looking for places to speak. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities that will show up just because you ask!

Consider videoing your presentation and sharing the link on your website. This is an easy way to share with lots of people! Ask your Board, volunteers, staff, Facebook followers, and everyone else to share the link with their friends. If you have a really good presentation, your video will likely get lots of views.

3. Track your results. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Keep a log of the dates and places where you speak, the number of people in the audience, and what comes of it (people who ask to volunteer, immediate donations, offers for additional speaking opportunities, etc.). Over time, you’ll see the tangible benefit of the time and energy you’ve invested in spreading the word.

You need supporters in order to fulfill your mission and change lives. I challenge you to set a goal of one speaking gig per week so you can build momentum for your cause and stop being the best kept secret in town.

By: Sandy Rees


Everyone wants a high-functioning Board. Yet few know how to make it happen.

Helpful Tips
At the AFP conference in San Antonio, I had the privilege of hearing Simone Joyeaux present a session on Boards. I thoroughly enjoyed it (she’s an entertaining speaker!) and I took some great notes. Here’s the summary of what I caught so you can learn with me.

1. Board member: You can’t be chicken and be an effective Board member.  Don’t be dysfunctionally polite. Your silence is unacceptable. Everyone needs to have the courage to voice their opinion, even when it goes against the rest of the group’s opinion.

2. There’s a difference between what a Board can do and what a Board member can do. Boards do governance. Board members do work. The Board as a whole can’t do fundraising. Individual Board members can do fundraising.

3. No single Board member has authority over another. No individual Board member can act on behalf of the Board unless specifically given that authority.

4. A Board can only do governance as a group. The Board is a collective and does governance in a meeting. Committees don’t do governance. The Board as a whole does governance.

5. Here’s a question a Board should ask itself: How do we govern and pay attention without micromanaging and driving staff away?

6. Both staff and Board are responsible for knowing what good governance is. Staff – learn more about governance so you can partner with the Board and support them. But don’t demand that they know how to be good at their job if they’ve never learned.

7. People don’t buy into what they don’t create. Get Board members involved in creating the vision and the plans.

8. There is no give or get. Every Board member should make a monetary gift and help raise money.

9. Committees make recommendations and engage the full Board. Ask at the end of a committee meeting: Do we have anything to report?

10. Our lives are built around prevention and intervention. How does your Board do these?

Want more help with your Board?

Workshop: “Engage Your Board. For Good.” June 11, 2014, Hickory, NC. More info/register at

Board retreat: Let us deliver our “Board Magic” workshop for your next retreat. We help your Board understand and embrace their roles/responsibilities, help them find their comfort zone with fundraising, and set the stage for your coming year. More info at

Do-It-Yourself: Conduct your own Board retreat using Sandy’s materials with a Board Training in a Box. Everything you need, including DVDs, workbooks, and toys. More info at

By: Sandy Rees

I saw a quote this morning on Facebook from Dani Johnson and it really struck me.  Here it is:

You CAN NOT get to a NEW place unless you LEAVE the OLD one first!

So true.

Many times, we get excited about a new dream or vision for our organization, or even a new fundraising strategy we want to try.  We want to make it happen. Sometimes we close our eyes and visualize how it will be. But here’s the problem:

[tweetthis url=""]If we don’t take action, nothing happens. Action is required to make our nonprofit dreams a reality.[/tweetthis]

You know what’s key to taking action? A plan.

Taking action just to get into movement isn’t enough.  You must be moving toward a specific goal.

This week I have a video for you to talk more about creating a plan for yourself.


It’s not enough to just have a new place. Make it BIG enough that it’s worth working toward.

We have a small-group VIP opportunity coming up that’s going to be a game changer for 6 nonprofits. If you’re ready to put a year’s plan together to help you reach your big goals, call us at 865-657-9915 or email us at for all the details.